ANKARA (Reuters) - An aide to Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan who made front page news around the world after being filmed kicking a protester in the wake of Turkey’s worst ever mining accident has been sacked, a government official said on Saturday.
Footage earlier this month showing Yusuf Yerkel apparently lashing out at the man - who was being held on the ground by two security officers - sparked widespread outrage and came to symbolize the government’s widely criticized handling of the disaster, in which more than 300 people died.
Despite expressing regret for what happened, Yerkel was sacked by Erdogan earlier this week, although news of the decision only emerged at the weekend, the official told Reuters.
“Yusuf Yerkel apologized but it was too late. At the end of the discussion the Prime Minister fired him directly,” the source said.
The incident had threatened to become a major embarrassment for Erdogan, who is already under heavy fire himself. During the same visit to Soma he became embroiled in angry altercations with protesters, who were expressing rage at Turkey’s poor work safety record.
Yerkel had been off work since shortly after the incident, reported to be suffering with leg injuries sustained whilst kicking the man, a situation the deputy prime minister Bulent Arinc described on Thursday as “tragicomic”.
Fallout from the Soma disaster is the latest headache for Erdogan, who faced massive street protests against his rule last year. For months he has been fighting against widespread allegations of government corruption, claims he has strongly rejected.
Despite criticism of his combative political style, Turkey’s strongman premier is expected to launch a presidential bid next month, hoping to become Turkey’s first directly elected head of state.
Additional reporting by Gulsen Solaker; Writing by Jonny Hogg; Editing by Stephen Powell